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Who wins propaganda war over Iran scientist?
By Jon Leyne BBC Tehran correspondent
Shahram Amiri, 13.07 Shahram Amiri has asked to be sent home to Iran

There are two diametrically opposed versions of the story. Iran says Shahram Amiri was kidnapped. American sources said that he defected and was giving them high-grade information on the Iranian nuclear programme.

On the face of it, the Iranian version now sounds a lot more credible, as Shahram Amiri has made his way to the Iranian diplomatic mission in Washington, apparently of his own accord.

However the United States continues to insist that Mr Amiri came to them freely, and has now left them freely.

And despite all the American actions over recent years, including the use of extraordinary rendition, and the existence of Guantanamo Bay, the seizure of a foreign scientist would surely be something of a different order.

Iranian pressure?

One possibility is that Mr Amiri has been pressured by the Iranians to return home.

His wife and family are left back in Iran, and would be vulnerable to such pressure.

Iranian exiles around the world are familiar with calls from the intelligence services or the Revolutionary Guards, threatening them or warning them not to speak to the media.

The journalist Maziar Bahari, who left the country after being held in prison for 118 days after last summer's disturbances, reported just such a phone call while he was in New York recently.

Shortly afterwards, he was sentenced - in his absence - to a long prison term by a court in Tehran.

Nevertheless there is no evidence of any such pressure on Mr Amiri.
Major catch

Iran has no official embassy in Washington. The two countries broke off diplomatic relations at the time of the US embassy siege in Tehran three decades ago.

Instead a few expatriate diplomats work out of an anonymous office building away from the main diplomatic area.
Natanz nuclear enrichment facility (2007) US sources say Mr Amiri has shared high value Iranian nuclear secrets

Technically it operates under the auspices of the Pakistani embassy, the protecting power for Iranian interests in the United States.

That means it still has diplomatic status. So the US authorities cannot demand entry.

Equally, though, the Americans could prevent Mr Amiri from leaving the United States for Iran, as he has reportedly told the Iranians he wants to.

However it appears the US State Department is prepared to let him go.

The spokesman, PJ Crowley, has told reporters: "He has been in the United States of his own free will, and obviously he is free to go."

In the meantime, the American spy agencies will be pondering how they managed to let slip a man they had been building up as a major catch.

In the war of nerves over the Iranian nuclear programme, this looks like a propaganda victory for the Iranians, even if Mr Amiri may have already told the Americans everything he knows about the programme.
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Iranian scientist Shahram Amiri alleges US torture

Shahram Amiri says he was subjected to "the harshest mental and physical torture"

An Iranian scientist who said he was kidnapped by the CIA has said he was subjected to extreme mental and physical torture by the Americans.

Shahram Amiri, who has flown from the US to Tehran, also denied being heavily involved in Iran's nuclear programme.

He disappeared last year and resurfaced this week in the Pakistani embassy in Washington asking to be repatriated.

The US said he had been in the country "of his own free will" and denied he was tortured.
Related stories

Wearing a beige suit, a smiling Mr Amiri was greeted at Tehran's international airport early on Thursday morning by his tearful son and wife, along with other family members and Deputy Foreign Minister Hassan Qashqavi.

Speaking at a news conference afterwards, he repeated his earlier claims that he had been abducted by US agents while undertaking the Hajj pilgrimage in the Saudi Arabian city of Medina.

Mr Amiri said he was placed under intense pressure by his interrogators to co-operate in the first months following his alleged kidnapping.

"I was under the harshest mental and physical torture," he said, adding that Israeli agents had been present during the interrogations and that the CIA had offered him $50m (£32.8m) to remain in the US.

"The Americans wanted me to say that I defected to America of my own will to use me for revealing some false information about Iran's nuclear work. But with God's will, I resisted."

Mr Amiri offered no evidence, but said he would eventually.

"I have some documents proving that I've not been free in the United States and have always been under the control of armed agents of US intelligence services."

He also denied he had been heavily involved in Iran's nuclear programme, saying he was a "simple researcher who was working at a university".

"I'm not involved in any confidential jobs. I had no classified information.

"I had nothing to do with the Natanz and Fordo sites," he said, referring to Iran's two uranium enrichment plants.

Unconfirmed reports that he worked for Iran's atomic energy organisation were "a tool the US government brought up for political pressure".

Mr Qashqavi thanked the scientist for his "resistance to pressure".

He rejected suggestions that Mr Amiri's return was linked to a possible deal to release three US hikers who have been detained in Iran since 2009.

In the US, unnamed officials and security sources said that Mr Amiri defected and was put into a programme similar to a witness-protection scheme.

Later, he apparently became concerned for family members he had left behind, had a breakdown and decided to return to Iran, US reports claim.
Shahram Amiri is greeted by his family at Tehran's airport (15 July 2010) Shahram Amiri was greeted at Tehran's airport by his tearful son and wife

A US official told the BBC: "He provided useful information to the United States. The Iranians now have him. In terms of win-loss, it's not even a close call."

The official said Mr Amiri was not held in the US against his will, had lived there freely and had chosen freely to return to Iran.

In its online edition, The Washington Post newspaper quoted unnamed officials saying Mr Amiri had been working for the CIA for more than a year and was paid $5m (£3.3m).

In June, the Iranian government announced that it had handed evidence to the US that the scientist had been abducted.

It came shortly after Mr Amiri appeared in two videos posted on the internet giving conflicting stories about how he had arrived in the US.

He said in the first that he had been kidnapped by CIA and Saudi agents while on a pilgrimage. In the second message, he said he had gone to the US to improve his education and was living freely in Arizona.

In a third message posted on the internet later that month, Mr Amiri said he had escaped from US custody and was on the run in Virginia.

In an interview with Iranian state Press TV before he left the US, Mr Amiri said he was in Medina when three men in a van posing as fellow pilgrims offered him a ride.

"As I sat down, the man in back held a gun toward me and told me to keep quiet," he said.

"They took me to a secret place and injected me, and when I woke up I saw myself in a huge airplane," and was taken to the US.

The US state department repeatedly denied it had kidnapped him, but never said that he was not in the country.

However on Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged publicly for the first time that the scientist was indeed in the US.
We don't want the looneys taking over...

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Thu Jul 15, 2010 8:46 pm
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Middle East

Iran mosque 'suicide bombers' kill 27

A man helps victims in Zahedan Bystanders rushed to help victims of the attack

Two suicide bombers have killed at least 27 people at a Shia mosque in south-eastern Iran, officials say.

The first bomber blew himself up at a checkpoint outside the Jamia mosque in the city of Zahedan, with a more deadly second blast moments later.

Worshippers and Revolutionary Guards were reportedly among the dead.

Regional media reported that a Sunni rebel group, Jundullah, said it carried out the attacks in revenge for the hanging of its leader by Iran in June.

Iranian Health Minister Marzieh Vahid Dastagerdi told the news agency ISNA that the death toll was likely to rise, as 11 of the 270 injured people were in critical condition.

According to reports, the clerical leadership in Iran accused the US of backing Jundullah in order to create instability in Iran. Washington denied the charge.

Senior lawmaker Alaeddin Boroujerdi said the US should be held accountable for the "terrorist acts in Zahedan" because of its support for Jundullah, the official IRNA news agency reported.
'Horrific attack'

An e-mail purporting to be from Jundullah - which has attacked Zahedan before - said the attacks were in response to the execution of Abdolmalek Rigi.

The blasts came as worshippers celebrated the anniversary of the birth of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.
Map of Iran

The second blast proved more deadly as it struck people who had gathered to help the wounded.

"The [first] attacker, dressed in women's clothing, was trying to get in the mosque, but was prevented," local MP Hossein Ali Shahriari told Fars news agency.

"When people came to rescue those hit in that blast, another bomber blew himself up. Three to four have been killed at least in the first attack."

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the "horrific attack" and called for the perpetrators to be held accountable.

"This attack, along with the recent attacks in Uganda, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Algeria, underscores the global community's need to work together to combat terrorist organisations," she said.

Zahedan is the capital city of Sistan-Baluchistan province, which borders Afghanistan and Pakistan and is prone to unrest.

The BBC's Tehran correspondent Jon Leyne says there is resentment in the mainly Sunni area against perceived discrimination by Iran's Shia establishment.

The region is also a key drug-smuggling route from Afghanistan to Europe, with heavily armed convoys of smugglers adding to the atmosphere of lawlessness in this remote region, our correspondent says.
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Sat Jul 17, 2010 8:05 am
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Iran urges US to drop 'cowboy logic' over nuclear issue

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on 15 July Mr Ahmadinejad says he is for negotiations over his country's nuclear programme

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said the US must stop using "cowboy logic" if it wants dialogue with Iran over its nuclear programme.

He said he was for negotiations, but that imposing sanctions would not make his country change course.

Following on from recent UN sanctions, Washington has imposed its toughest ever measures on Tehran for refusing to halt its uranium enrichment programme.

The US and major European powers say Iran is trying to build nuclear arms.

Iran says its nuclear programme is peaceful.

"We are for negotiations, but to do so you have to sit down like a good boy," Mr Ahmadinejad said, referring to the US in a speech broadcast live on state television.

"They adopt a resolution to force a dialogue, but this cowboy logic has no place in Iran."

Mr Ahmadinejad added that the US's real concern was not that Iran may make a bomb, but its rise as a regional power.
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Mon Jul 19, 2010 1:55 pm
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Profile: Iran's Jundullah militants
By Roger Hardy
BBC Middle East analyst

The Iranian authorities have accused a shadowy group called Jundullah - the Soldiers of God - of carrying out a series of attacks, including a suicide bombing on 18 October 2009 which killed six commanders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. But what is Jundullah, what does it want - and who is behind it?

It was founded in 2002 to defend the Baluchi minority in the poor, remote and lawless region of south-east Iran.

Its leader, Abdolmalek Rigi, denies the group has either foreign links or a separatist agenda.

In an interview in October 2008, he said the group - also known as the People's Resistance Movement - was not interested in trying to break away from Iran.

It simply wanted the state to respect the human rights, culture and faith of the Baluchis.

Nation without a state

The Baluchis in Iran - and their brethren across the border in Pakistan - see themselves, rather like the Kurds, as a nation without a state.

But in predominantly Shia Iran, the issue is complicated by the fact that they are Sunni Muslim.

This has led them to claim sectarian persecution - and the Iranian authorities to accuse them of being in league with foreigners.

The list of powers alleged to be supporting them is a long one.

It includes the United States, Britain, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia - and militant groups such as the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

During the Bush administration, there were allegations - for example, by the investigative journalist Seymour Hersh - that the CIA was supporting Iran's Baluchi, Kurdish and Arab minorities to undermine the Islamic Republic.

If there was such a policy, it is not clear if the Obama administration has scrapped it.

It was quick to condemn Sunday's attack as an "act of terrorism".

An al-Qaeda link?

The Iranians also suspect covert support for Jundullah is coming from Pakistan's powerful intelligence service, the ISI.

But the two states have in the past co-operated in suppressing Baluchi nationalism - and also have important economic ties - so it seems unlikely Pakistan would want to antagonise its powerful neighbour.

As for the Saudis, given their resentment of Iran's newly enhanced role in the Middle East, it is not impossible some quiet assistance is going to Sunni groups like Jundullah.

Less plausible is a link to al-Qaeda.

Although Jundullah has recently adopted the jihadi tactic of suicide bombings, it seems more accurate to characterise it is a nationalist group with local grievances than part of Bin Laden's global jihad.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2010/06/20 05:37:32 GMT

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Mon Jul 19, 2010 1:56 pm
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Mass funerals for victims of Iran mosque bombings

Mourners at Saturday's mass funerals Mourners chanted "down with the US" during mass funerals in Zahedan

Thousands of mourners have thronged the streets of the south-eastern Iranian city of Zahedan as mass funerals were held for victims of the devastating bombings of a mosque.

Police said they had arrested 40 people in connection with Thursday's blasts, which killed at least 27 people.

Those detained were not accused of direct responsibility for the attacks.

Hundreds of worshippers were injured when two suicide bombers blew themselves up at a Shia mosque.

The first bomber blew himself up at a checkpoint outside the Jamia mosque in Zahedan, with a more deadly second blast moments later.
'Horrific attack'

A Sunni rebel group, Jundullah, has said it carried out the attacks in revenge for the hanging of its leader by Iranian authorities.

General Ahmad Reza Radan, Iran's deputy police chief, told the Iranian Fars news agency on Saturday that the suspects "intended to create insecurity in Zahedan after the bombing".

He spoke as thousands of people turned out in Zahedan for the funerals, chanting "death to terrorists" and "down with the US", according to footage shown on state TV.

Iran blamed foreign countries, particularly the US, for the bombing, which came as worshippers celebrated the anniversary of the birth of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

A senior Revolutionary Guards commander was quoted as saying the US would face "fallout" from the deadly attack.

"Jundullah has been supported by America for its terrorist acts in the past," Massoud Jazayeri, deputy head of the dominant ideological wing of Iran's armed forces, was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency. "America will have to await the fallout of such criminal and savage measures."

The BBC's Tehran correspondent Jon Leyne says Iran's deputy interior minister described those who carried out the latest attack as mercenaries of what Iran calls the "Global Arrogance".

But US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the "horrific attack" and called for the perpetrators to be held accountable.
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Mon Jul 19, 2010 1:57 pm
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Quote, "Big Oil helps prop up Iranís regime in another important way: by opposing strong clean energy and climate legislation. The kind of strong legislation to move us off oil that is vocally opposed by the American Petroleum Institute would deny Iran $100 million a day in petrodollars"


Thu Jul 22, 2010 9:07 pm
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Awful hit piece on Iran from the 'World Service'
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World rallies for Iranian woman sentenced to death

A protester hold placards with Ashtiani's pictures in London In London, campaigners protested against "medievalism and barbarity"

Hundreds of people have held rallies across the world in support of an Iranian woman sentenced to death for adultery.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was originally told she would be killed by stoning but the sentence was put on hold following an international outcry.

In London, campaigners protested against what they described as "medievalism and barbarity".

Protesters also marched in Toronto, New York, Paris, Berlin and other cities.

In London's Trafalgar Square, campaigners called on the international community to "make the world stand still".

In Sweden's capital Stockholm, protesters signed a large petition calling for Ashtiani's release.

However, her death sentence remains in place.

She has already received 99 lashes for what Iranian officials called an illicit relationship outside marriage.

Then, following the trial of a man charged with murdering her husband, the 43-year-old mother of two was found guilty of adultery - a crime punishable by death.

Earlier this month, officials in East Azerbaijan province said the execution would be "temporarily halted" pending a decision by Iran's judiciary chief, Sadeq Larijani.

Case review

It was announced that the method of execution would not be stoning, but she remains under sentence of death with her case due to be reviewed within a fortnight. Rights groups have warned she could still be hanged.

Campaigners express hopes that Saturday's rallies would keep Iran under pressure to release Ashtiani.

She has been in jail in the north-western city of Tabriz since 2005.

Iran's judiciary has been told to observe a moratorium on stoning, but critics say the practice continues.

Amnesty International says at least six people have been stoned to death in Iran since 2006. Another 15 people were spared, the human rights group says.
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Wed Jul 28, 2010 2:31 pm
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Iran stoning 'temporarily halted' by judicial chief

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani (Family handout via Amnesty International) Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani's case has drawn worldwide attention

Iran's judiciary chief has temporarily halted the stoning to death of a woman convicted of adultery, state news agency Irna has said.

Malek Ajdar Sharifi, the judiciary head in East Azerbaijan province, said the execution would still take place when Iran's judiciary chief decided.

The ruling against Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, a 43-year-old mother of two, has sparked an international outcry.

Ashtiani has been jailed in the north-western city of Tabriz since 2005.

Rights groups have warned that she could still be hanged.

"The verdict has been halted due to humanitarian reservations and upon the order of the honourable judiciary chief [Sadeq Larijani] and it will not be carried out for the moment," Mr Ajdar Sharifi told Irna.

"Whenever the judiciary chief deems it expedient, the verdict will be carried out regardless of Western media propaganda," he said.
International outcry

On Friday, Iran's human rights commissioner Mohammad Javad Larijani said that Ashtiani's death sentence was "under review", noting that judges "rarely use" the penalty of stoning.

According to rights group Amnesty International, at least six people have been stoned to death in Iran since 2006; another 15 people were spared.

Mr Larijani did not say what penalty Ashtiani could face instead.

Last week, Ashtiani's lawyer and human rights activists warned that her execution by stoning was imminent, after all available appeals for clemency had been exhausted.

The United States, the European Union, Britain and international human rights groups have all appealed for a stay of execution.

In May 2006, Ashtiani was found guilty of having had an "illicit relationship" with two men following the death of her husband. She was given 99 lashes.

But that September, during the trial of a man accused of murdering her husband, another court re-opened the case based on events that took place before her husband died.

Despite retracting a confession that she said she had been forced to make under duress, Ms Ashtiani was found guilty of adultery - a major offence under Iranian law - and sentenced to death by stoning.
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Wed Jul 28, 2010 2:33 pm
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Iran's grim history of death by stoning

By Mike Wooldridge BBC News, World affairs correspondent

Iran appears to have backed down over the stoning of a woman for adultery amid an international outcry, putting the whole issue of stoning as a punishment under the spotlight once again.

Iran has said Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, 43, will be spared being stoned to death for adultery while leaving it unclear what fate does await her.

The mother of two was arrested in 2005 and subsequently convicted of having an "illicit relationship" for which she was given 99 lashes witnessed by her son, then in his late teens.

Her case was then reopened and she was convicted of adultery during her marriage, for which she was given the sentence of death by stoning.

Iran's existing penal code provides for this form of execution for one crime - adultery, an offence "against divine law" - though murder, rape, armed robbery and drug trafficking are also punishable by death.
Stoned or spared

Human rights campaigners say Iran has one of the highest rates of executions in the world.

Death by stoning came into use in Iran after the 1979 revolution.
Iranian protest outside Iran's embassy in Ankara, Turkey, 9 July The case has sparked an international outcry

Amnesty International says that at least eight people were stoned to death in 1986.

The group says some people have linked this to the passing of a law that year which allowed the hiring of judges with minimal experience and that it led to an increase in the number of judges from a traditional religious background.

In 1995, Amnesty International received reports that as many as 10 people may have been stoned to death that year.

In 2002, the Iranian judiciary placed a moratorium on death by stoning.

But such sentences have continued to be reported. And Amnesty said this week that eight men and three women were awaiting the carrying out of sentences of stoning and since 2006 at least six people had been put to death in this manner.

It also said 15 people had been saved from stoning.

The brief statement from the Iranian embassy in London announcing that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani would not be executed by stoning said that "this kind of punishment has rarely been implemented" in Iran.

It also said stoning was not in a draft Islamic penal code currently under consideration in the Iranian parliament.


Iran has long argued that the death penalty is essential in maintaining public security.

It also says it is only carried out after exhaustive judicial proceedings, a claim that has been challenged by human rights groups.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a party, requires those states that maintain the death penalty to restrict it to "the most serious crimes".

Critics of the way Iran has been using capital punishment say that it has acted in clear violation of the covenant.

From time to time there have been reports of stonings from other countries, such as Somalia and Afghanistan.

A case in Somalia in October 2008 attracted much attention. A girl was stoned to death before a large crowd at a football stadium.

The suggestion - particularly from her lawyer - that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani appeared to be on the verge of being stoned to death saw Iran accused internationally this week of allowing a "medieval" practice which has no place in the modern world.

It brought a response from the Iranian authorities indicating that they do not relish a confrontation on this issue, even if the next steps are not yet clear.
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Last edited by Williamtheb on Fri Jul 30, 2010 10:32 am; edited 1 time in total
Thu Jul 29, 2010 9:28 pm
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Spike wrote:
Awful hit piece on Iran from the 'World Service' /BbcBusinessDailyPodcast --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Talk about "one head not knowing what the other is doing"! Niether of them know what they are doing (gotta' fix that tap you know?!)!
Thu Jul 29, 2010 9:29 pm
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Iran denies reports of attack on President Ahmadinejad

Iranian officials have denied that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was targeted in an assassination attempt.

A conservative Iranian website had said an explosive device was thrown at his convoy in the western city of Hamedan, where he was to deliver a speech, but later removed the report from its site.

State-run Press TV said "no such attack had happened", and officials said the blast was caused by a firework.


Jon Leyne BBC News

Security is actually not that tight around President Ahmadinejad when he is out on tour.

Presidential tours are announced in advance, and he is swamped by crowds even though there are security guards around him.

If confirmed as an assassination attempt, it would be the first one I have heard of during his presidency, although the president claimed the Americans had a plot to kidnap him when he travelled to Iraq a couple of years ago.

Mr Ahmadinejad went ahead with his speech at a football stadium.

"It was a firecracker, and a statement will be released soon," an official in the president's media office told the Agence France-Presse news agency.

Al Alam, a state-run Arabic-language TV channel, reported that the firecracker was set off to cheer the president.

The Khabaronline website said the president's car was about 100 metres (330ft) away from the explosion, which "caused a lot of smoke", but later removed the article from its website.

The semi-official Fars news agency first said the device was a homemade grenade, but later said the explosion was caused by a firecracker.

Earlier, a source in his office told the Reuters news agency that Mr Ahmadinejad's convoy was targeted as he was travelling from the airport.

Dubai-based Al Arabiya television said the attacker threw an explosive device at a car carrying journalists.

The attacker was detained, it said.

Other Arab TV reports had said a number of people were wounded in the attack.

Earlier this week, Mr Ahmadinejad said he believed he was the target of an assassination plot by Israel.

During a speech to a conference of expatriate Iranians in Tehran, he said Zionists had "hired mercenaries to assassinate me".
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Wed Aug 04, 2010 3:55 pm
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From the BBC's 'Squeezing Iran' section on their site. Look for the defamatory language

Expanding business empire of Iran's Revolutionary Guards

By Mark Gregory BBC business reporter

Iran has embarked on a remarkable - many would say bizarre - experiment in business management.

Domination of a fairly sophisticated, energy-rich economy has been handed to a secretive military organisation that started out as a religious militia.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is now believed to control a third of the Iranian economy.

Some experts put the figure much higher, although all estimates are a matter of conjecture.

The force was created by Ayatollah Khomeini 30 years ago to protect the state and defend the principles of his Islamic revolution.

Its improbable journey to becoming a powerful business network is bound up with Iran's response to American pressure and international sanctions, which are intended to persuade Tehran to abandon alleged plans to develop nuclear weapons.

Among many other activities, the guard - often referred to by the acronym IRGC - is suspected of playing a central role in organising Iran's nuclear programme.

'In state of siege'

That is why the IRGC has been the prime target of four successive rounds of United Nations sanctions.


* Khatam al-Anbia construction firm: employs 20,000 workers and boasts of hundreds of government contracts
* Iran Telecommunications Company - 50% stake bought in government privatisation scheme
* Angouran - the largest lead and zinc mine in the Middle East
* Bahman Automobile Manufacturing Group - (manufactures the Mazda brand) - 45% stake
* Iran electronics industry - comprises electronic, computer and communications companies
* Iranians' Mehr Economic Institution - financial institution with hundreds of branches (one of the largest banking networks in Iran)

* Profile: Iran's Revolutionary Guards

"By focussing on the Revolutionary Guards for sanctions, by making it clear to financial institutions around the world that doing business with the Revolutionary Guards puts at risk their access to the US financial system, I think they will be under significant pressure," explains Stuart Levey, the man in charge of US policy-making on this issue.

He has an impressive job title: under-secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the US treasury.

But there's no guarantee of success.

Indeed, some people argue sanctions and isolation are actually counterproductive because they create the conditions in which hardline groups, like the Revolutionary Guard, can extend their influence over politics and the economy.

"We are not in normal circumstances," says Abbas Edalat, an Iranian anti-sanctions campaigner and maths professor at Imperial College London.

"Iran has been subjected to threats of regime change, threats of military attack. In these circumstances it is not at all strange that the military gets increasingly more economic power in the country."

Speaking of the guard, he continues: "This is the force that the government can trust to run the economy when Iran is in a state of siege."

That is not a view Mr Levey is ever likely to accept.

"It's hard to argue that the Revolutionary Guard would have wanted to be singled out in UN Security Council resolutions for sanctions," he says.
Well concealed

No doubt the debate will continue.

But there's little dispute about the extent of the guards' business ambitions.

"What we do know is that they are trying to infiltrate every single aspect of the economy and are trying to engage in any kind of economic activity, both legal and illegal," explains Ali Alfoneh, an Iranian research fellow at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute.

The IRGC has been building its economic influence for more than 20 years but the process has greatly accelerated since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - himself a former guardsman - took office in 2005.

In that period, the organisation's construction arm, Khatam al-Anbia, has won hundreds of lucrative government contracts in areas like construction, usually without having to bid.

It has also advanced through apparently rigged privatisations and part privatisations of state enterprises that, for example, saw a company affiliated to the guards take ownership of the national telephone service.

The guard is by far the largest investor on the Tehran stock market.

From car manufacturing to mining and clothing, even online shopping, there are few industries they aren't involved in, although often it's hard to tell what they control because it's well concealed.

"The Revolutionary Guard usually engages in trades [on the stock exchange] through front companies with names that vary and change all the time," says Mr Alfoneh.

"They do not want to be perceived as an economic enterprise. They consider themselves and they want to be considered as saviours of Iran, especially from the Iran-Iraq war," he adds.

New business

And that's where the guard's business empire began.

The organisation emerged from the eight-year-long conflict with Iraq in the 1980s as a formidable fighting machine, with organisational and engineering skills to match.

These skills were put to good use in post-war reconstruction, and the guard has been expanding its business activities ever since.

Much more recently, the IRGC has developed a new line of business.

Firms affiliated to the guard have been awarded multi billion-dollar contracts to open up Iran's largest offshore gas field, South Pars.

They have filled the gap left by international energy groups like Shell, Repsol and Total, who have pulled out in response to US pressure and tensions with the government in Tehran.

In economic terms, it may seem mad to entrust the development of one of the nation's most important assets to a military organisation that has no known expertise in energy extraction.

But the politics are easy to understand.

President Ahmadinejad wants to free strategic industries from foreign influence.

But in a clandestine way, the guard is heavily involved in the outside world.

Remarkably for an organisation that's embedded in government, it runs a massive smuggling operation. It brings in everything from contraband to scarce consumer goods, even alcohol which is banned in Iran.

The IRGC is a complex organisation with many different layers.

Some Western analysts see it as a kind of state within a state with its own agenda. Others regard it as directly under the control of hardline elements within the government.

The reality may lie somewhere in between.

It may be both an arm of the state and a power in its own right.

One thing is clear. This is an odd way to run a modern economy.
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US gets serious on Iran sanctions

By Kim Ghattas BBC News, Washington

PJ Crowley (file) US State Department spokesperson PJ Crowley says its no more "business as usual"

For banks, oil companies and other big businesses around the world, from India to Japan, Russia and Germany, the US now has a clear message: you're either with us or with Iran.

Doing business with both is no longer possible, at least in theory.

"This cannot be business as usual and we recognise that there is going to have to be a lot of due diligence," said State Department spokesperson PJ Crowley in a BBC interview.

The unilateral US sanctions passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama on 1 July go further than the fourth round of UN sanctions against Iran approved by the Security Council in June.

Washington will now penalise companies that invest more than $20m (£12.5m) in any project that significantly "contributes to the enhancement of Iran's ability to develop petroleum resources".

The export of refined petroleum products to Iran is also a target, and sanctions build on past UN and US designations of entities.

Those companies found guilty could find themselves shut out of the US financial system.

The US treasury department's sanctions tsar, Stuart Levy, told the BBC this wasn't US bullying because companies had a choice about whether "they'll do business in Iran or with the United States, and for example get US government contracts".

The new law will in fact require that American and foreign businesses that seek contracts with the United States government certify that they do not engage in prohibited business with Iran.

Presidential waiver

The sanctions legislation goes further than US unilateral sanctions have done in the past because it curbs the ability American presidents had under previous legislation to waive the sanctions on "national security grounds" - in other words, when they felt it tied their hands in the conduct of foreign diplomacy and could upset allies.

In the end, no foreign company was ever sanctioned under the 1996 Iran sanctions act, but this will now likely change.
Gas field in South Pars Special Economic Energy Zone, Asalouyeh, Iran US sanctions are designed to strike Iran's vital energy sector

Instead of a blanket waiver, the president will now only be able to waive sanctions on companies for 12 months on a case-by-case basis and as long as he certifies to Congress that the country where the company is based is co-operating in multilateral efforts to isolate Iran.

"This waiver has the name-and-shame effect and a political cost for the White House," said Howard Berman, a Democrat who chairs the House Foreign Affairs committee, and one of the lawmakers leading the effort to pass the legislation.

Major banks in Japan and Germany, oil companies in India and companies elsewhere are scrutinising the law to determine the impact it will have on their business.

The EU has now also introduced similar tough unilateral measures.
Indian concern

A few days after the US sanctions became law, India's Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said his country was worried that "unilateral sanctions recently imposed by individual countries [could] have a direct and adverse impact on Indian companies and, more importantly, on our energy security."

It's this kind of reaction from allies and even rivals, like China, that has in the past stopped the US from enforcing the sanction regime too assiduously.

In fact, a New York Times analysis in March found that billions of US taxpayers' money had been spent in Iran, including $15bn (£9.5bn) paid to companies that defied American sanctions by making large investments that helped Iran develop its oil and gas reserves.

But Robert Einhorn, the state department co-ordinator for Iran sanctions, said the US would "aggressively prosecute" anyone in violation of US laws.

Enforcement of the law will require significant negotiations between the US and foreign governments, on a technical but also diplomatic level.

Foreign firms who are found in violation of the sanctions will be given some time to unwind their Iran business before the US takes punitive action and before any diplomatic row erupts.

Chinese 'responsibilities'

China's business ties with Iran are also a source of concern to the US because Beijing may try to fill the vacuum left behind by companies that pull out from Iran.

"If China wants to do business around the world it will also have to protect its own reputation, and if you acquire a reputation as a country that is willing to skirt and evade international responsibilities that will have a long-term impact," said Mr Crowley, the state department spokesperson.

"We understand [the Chinese] have their financial concerns but their international responsibilities are clear," he added.

In theory that is true, but in practice, as with all sanctions against any country, the loopholes are there, as are the companies that might be willing to pay the cost of losing access to the US financial system.

And while the use of the presidential waiver is now more limited, it's still an option.

If Russia offers to help in other ways to further the multinational effort to isolate Iran, Russian oil companies could still find a waiver or two coming their way.
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Could a different option with Iran work?

By Barbara Plett BBC News, New York

Technicians inside the Isfahan uranium conversion facility in central Iran, October 2004 Iran's nuclear programme continues to grow

How do you solve a problem like Iran's nuclear programme? Especially when Iran does not see it as a problem and elevates what it says is a peaceful drive for nuclear energy to the status of a national cause?

The UN Security Council wrestled with this question again in June and came up with the same old answer: another round of sanctions. There was majority support from the 15 members because many were worried the Iranians might be secretly trying to build a nuclear bomb.

But no votes from Turkey and Brazil showed cracks in the consensus, a signal of unease with a policy that has so far failed to change Iran's behaviour and of fears that it may lead to confrontation.
Related stories

* Iran's Revolutionary Guards and their business empire
* Squeezing Iran: Oil and sanctions
* China-Iran: Old ties, modern dependency

Even amongst those Iranians most opposed to their government, there is little appetite for sanctions. One of the most outspoken is Hamid Dabashi, a professor of Persian studies at New York's Columbia University.

Mr Dabashi supports the opposition Green Movement, launched after Iran's controversial presidential election last year. He gives space to dissident Iranian voices, among them artists and musicians, in weekly webcasts which have become tribunes for change in Iran.

But Mr Dabashi believes sanctions will hurt Iran's people rather than its leaders. And he is afraid they could be used as a pretext to further repress the struggle for democratic rights.
Domestic pressure

"The most enduring effect of the sanctions would be that the budding civil rights movement would be immediately severely crushed," he says.

"In fact, [its members] would be blamed for the sanctions."

Even the head of the CIA, Leon Panetta, has admitted in an interview with ABC Television that sanctions probably will not convince Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions. So why use them?

US domestic politics plays a role: there is a strong lobby in Congress for tough action against Iran which President Barack Obama cannot ignore.

He also cannot ignore the risk of an Israeli military strike if something is not done. Israel has nuclear weapons, most experts say, yet it sees a nuclear Iran as a threat to its existence.

Crucially, Mr Obama says Iran has failed to respond to an offer of engagement, first made in his inaugural speech and pursued for more than a year - so pressure has to be used.

That is a claim some critics reject.

Common ground

"I'd argue we've not seriously tried negotiation," says Gary Sick, a former member of the US National Security Council.

Iraqi soldiers pose by a bullet-riddled portrait of Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini on Iran's Faw Peninsula during the war, April 1988 Memories of the war with Iraq are still fresh in Iranian minds

"We said to Iran, when the Obama administration first came in, we're ready to negotiate. And Iran was slow in responding, going through a political crisis of its own, and we said 'well, we can't do that', so we walked away from it."

But there is a lot to talk about, says Suzanne Dimaggio, director of policy studies at the Asia Society think tank. First, there should be recognition that Iran has legitimate security concerns too, shaped by its environment and history.

"The Iranians make it clear that they live in a tough neighbourhood surrounded by nuclear weapons states: Pakistan, Russia and Israel," says Ms Dimaggio.

"They also have two major wars on their borders."

Iranians also have strong memories of their devastating eight-year war with Iraq, when Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against them while the West did nothing.

The argument here is that any negotiations which focus only on Iran's nuclear programme will not work. The agenda must be broader, covering concerns that matter to both Iran and the US.

"What kind of security atmosphere do Iranians want to see in their neighbours, Iraq and Afghanistan?" asks Ms Dimaggio.

"What are the possibilities of forming some sort of co-operative agreements around stabilising both countries? These are the sorts of issues where I think the US should start pursuing more active engagement."

Mr Sick admits even broader negotiations would not be easy. The ongoing political crisis has made the Iranian government reluctant to take decisions, let alone make concessions.

But without negotiation what is left? A sanctions policy that has not worked, a nuclear programme that Iran sees as its national right but Israel will not tolerate, and the fear that one day these contending pressures may erupt into war.
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Travelling the smugglers' route from Turkey to Iran

By Jiyar Gol BBC Persian, Esendere

The view approaching the Turkish border with Iran There are only a few official checkpoints on the border, but smugglers seem to get products through

This is the image greeting travellers at the border. Behind the barbed wire snaking up the hillside, the huge portraits of Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei dominate the valley.

This is the border between Iran and Turkey.

The Esendere crossing, one of just a handful of official transit points between the two countries, is in a dusty valley high up in the mountains.
Related stories

* Iran faces 'toughest sanctions'
* Iran sanctions cripple ageing military

A guard unlocks the padlock to swing open the big metal gate and an Iranian couple head towards the Iranian customs point. All morning there is a slow but steady flow of people.
'No choice'

Many of them are small traders like Abduluahap Derinsu. He is waiting to cross.

"We buy Iranian vegetables and fruit, like kiwi fruit and water melons. And we sell Turkish fabrics and clothes," says the 26-year-old.

He crosses into Iran most days.

"I don't make much money, and the Iranians make us pay all sorts of charges. But I don't have a choice - there's no other work round here, no factories. I have to feed a family of 15."

"Iran's isolation could mean new opportunities for our border region," says Osman Celik, the deputy chairman of Van Provincial Chamber of Commerce, as he shows off the commemorative plates from his last trip to Iran.

He travels to Iran regularly with delegations of local Turkish businessmen.

"If it was down to us, we wouldn't listen to any US or UK embargo - we would just do our business. But there are certain lines you just can't cross. Some problems need to be sorted out at a government level."

Last year, trade between Turkey and Iran was worth US $10bn, and they're hoping it will be doubled by 2011.
Iranian bazaar in Yusekova In the Iranian bazaar everything for sale has come across the border

More than 60% of Turkey's exports go to European countries.

So as the government in Ankara, led by the Islamist-rooted AK Party, reaches out to its neighbour, does it risk alienating its traditional allies in the West?

"Our prime minister, Mr Erdogan is like a man with two wives - he wants to please both sides, until one side says enough is enough," says Cuneyt Ulsever, a writer and columnist with Hurriyet newspaper.

"I believe in the end, he will face America and turn his back on Iran."

"Turkey voted against the UN sanctions, but she's going to have to abide by them. So formally Turkey will probably give the impression to the world that she's abiding by them."

"But the illegal trading will probably gain some power, and people in the border will find a way to help their Iranian friends."
Overnight transfer

In the Iranian bazaar in the border town of Yuksekova, everything has come across the border - and much of it has not come through formal channels.
Goat herder in the mountains It is eight hours by horse from Rafat Kaya's village to the border

In the cramped shops off the long dark corridor Iranian carpets are stacked up, shelves are crammed with Iranian teapots, bags of Iranian sugar vie for space on the floor with Iranian suitcases, and trays of Iranian veterinary medicines sit out in the passageway.

One Iranian businessman says he can transfer anything overnight to Iran across the mountains, even a machine as big as a bulldozer.

Rafat Kaya is a Kurdish shepherd from southeastern Turkey. Sometimes, he says, he smuggles goods back and forward to Iran. He points to the mountains and says it take eight hours on horseback from his village to the border.

And that's something we keep hearing, locals in both Turkey and Iran know how to avoid border controls.

We're told they either pay off customs officials or they take one of the many goat-paths and unofficial routes that cross this 298 miles (480km) mountainous border.
Serious business

So could Turkey ever really be sure exactly what it exports to its neighbour?

What else is being taken into Iran under the radar?

Back in Istanbul - the heart of Turkey's booming economy - the district of Aksaray is where Iranians head for if they are looking for Iranian travel agents, Iranian restaurants, Iranian shops and Iranian cargo houses.

It looks like a street in Tehran.

A few blocks away, an Iranian dealer agrees to talk to me.

His desk is messy, but he does serious business here.

He introduces himself as Mahmud, on the surface, he says, his business is legal.

But, he adds, just 10% of his goods go to Iran legally.

"I export strategic equipment, like aeroplane parts, to Iran," Mahmud says as he draws on a cigarette.

"Those companies would never sell their goods to Iran - because they have American investors."

He candidly explains how it works.

"How do we do it? A company like mine - we buy the equipment under the name of a Turkish company and the paperwork shows the destination is another country. But in fact the load ends up in Iran."

"We charge them 80% over the market price, but they need it - so they pay."
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Iran sanctions cripple ageing military

By Nick Childs Defence and security correspondent, BBC News

Notionally, Iran has about the biggest armed forces in the Middle East, with more than half-a-million people in uniform, but decades of US-led arms embargoes have had a huge impact on the strength of its conventional armed forces.

It has adapted, in part by changing the focus of its forces, but that has not completely made up the difference.

As well as formal embargoes and sanctions, there have been informal limits that countries have imposed on what they will and will not supply to Iran.

Since the Islamic Revolution, the country's neighbours among the Gulf Arab states have poured billions of dollars into almost unrestricted purchases of the most advanced Western weaponry.

Not so Iran.

Low-tech solutions

Since the 1980s, the country has in effect been unable to modernise its armed forces properly.

"More and more, Iran is dependent on systems delivered at the time of the Shah," according to Anthony Cordesman of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.

"Systems which are old in technology, where there are many countermeasures, which are wearing out or were worn out during the Iran-Iraq war, and where - with every passing year - it falls steadily behind."

In part, Tehran has compensated for this by turning to more low-tech military solutions, what is known as asymmetric or irregular warfare, often involving the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

These include more modest naval forces, for example, that might not be able to engage in a direct naval battle, but could harass shipping in the Gulf.

And there are other ways it may be extending its influence.

"Some of the things they will do to further their political ends use relatively low-tech military equipment", says Malcolm Chalmers of the Royal United Services Institute in London.

"If you're talking about supplying Hezbollah or Hamas or the Taliban, then you're not talking about supplying them with fighter aircraft, you're talking about relatively crude surface-to-surface missiles or indeed surface-to-air missiles."

Parts smuggling

Again nominally, Iran has about 300 combat aircraft.

But that does not paint the true picture.

To keep its increasingly antique conventional weapons going, Iran has resorted to smuggling in spare parts.

"This has been critical, because only about 40% to 60% of the inventory Iran has can fly, for example, out of its combat aircraft, and much less of its helicopter fleet", says Anthony Cordesman.

"But if it couldn't smuggle in spare parts, most of that fleet wouldn't be operational at all."

Of course, the history of arms embargoes is often that their impact diminishes over time.

"One of the long-term effects of arms embargoes is for countries always to become more self-sufficient, to develop their own manufacturing capability," Malcolm Chalmers says.

"And we saw that historically in South Africa, which developed - under apartheid - a very competent military-industrial capability which it would not have developed if there had not been an embargo."
A missile displayed during a military parade in Tehran 2005 Advanced missiles represent Iran's most significant military capability

Missile advances

Iran has certainly invested heavily in building its own ever-longer-range missiles, in part again to compensate for its weak air force.

It is perhaps the most significant military capability - apart from the suspected nuclear one - that the West and its regional friends worry about.

This missile development has been with the help of others, like North Korea.

But, in some respects, Iran may now be the most active developer of such systems, surpassing Pyongyang.

In other areas, it has not been very successful in developing its own weaponry. "There've been very few of these weapons actually produced," says Anthony Cordesman.

"Most of them have not gone into inventory. In other cases they simply have lied about the capability of weapons systems that can't perform at anything like the level that you sometimes see reported in the press."

Regional threat

Some countries, like Russia and China, have been willing over the years to supply Iran with less advanced weapons.
Iranian Revolutionary Guards during the war with Iraq, 1982. The Revolutionary Guard formed a fast, mobile force against Iraqi armour during the Iran-Iraq war

But even that has been hostage to the diplomatic climate.

There may be limits to the consensus on the new sanctions. But they clearly tighten the rules on military supplies.

And, with the new squeeze, there seems little chance that Russia - for example - will sell the much-talked-about advanced S-300 air defence missile.

"As of today, Russia does not have a legal obligation not to sell S-300 to Iran," says Vladimir Orlov of the PIR Centre in Moscow.

"At the same time, Russia does not have the intention to sell the S-300 to Iran currently, when Iranian behaviour is actually quite hostile towards Moscow."

All this has clearly been a conventional military handicap to Tehran.

But, while it may not be able to project conventional military power, it seems to be able to project unconventional military influence.

And, with its asymmetric capabilities, it can pose regional problems for its neighbours and their allies, and perhaps threaten their economies.
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Analysis: Do economic sanctions work?

By Jonathan Marcus BBC diplomatic correspondent

Do economic sanctions work? Past experience provides little hard evidence to go on.

Professor Adam Roberts is a research fellow at Oxford University - one of the great British figures in the study of international relations.

"There are very few cases where you can definitely identify sanctions as having had a success, except sometimes in combination with other factors," he says.

"Arguably they contributed something to the change in white minority Rhodesia that led to black majority rule; arguably the sanctions against South Africa were one factor that contributed to change there."

But, he insists, sanctions were only one factor among many, including guerrilla opposition in the country itself.

President Obama goes to make a statement on new UN sanctions on Iran (9 June 2010) It was hoped that sanctions would make Iran think again about its nuclear programme

"So", he concludes, "it is impossible to say in either of these cases that sanctions were the decisive factor."

In July 2010 President Barack Obama signed into law a series of tougher bilateral sanctions against Iran.

These were intended to turn the screw on Tehran and to bolster existing United Nations Security Council sanctions.

The hope was that the mix of UN and bilateral sanctions - tougher measures are already being planned by the European Union - would persuade Iran to change its mind and halt its uranium enrichment programme.

So far they don't seem to be working.

Nonetheless, since the end of the Cold War sanctions have been used much more frequently as a tool of international diplomacy.

Veteran diplomat Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain's ambassador to the UN between 1998 and 2003, says the fundamental reason for the popularity of sanctions is "that there is nothing else between words and military action if you want to bring pressure upon a government".

"Military action is increasingly unpopular and in many ways ineffective in a modern legitimacy-oriented world, and words don't work with hard regimes. So something in between these is necessary. What else is there?" he asks.

Sanctions are all very well, but if they are to work they must be universally applied.

And as Nicholas Burns, the most senior professional US diplomat in the Bush Administration says, as far as Iran is concerned this is just not happening.


* Prohibit Iran from buying several categories of heavy weapons including attack helicopters and missiles
* Carry out inspections of cargo shipments to and from Iran including seaports and airports
* Block financial transactions and ban the licensing of Iranian banks if they suspect a link to nuclear activities
* Target a number of individuals - including senior nuclear officials - and companies with asset freezes and travel bans

"Many countries are effectively ignoring them or, like China, undercutting them," he says.

Indeed he argues that China has become the largest trading partner with Iran since these UN sanctions have come into effect.

"They are a very difficult and sensitive policy instrument", he concludes and, echoing Adam Roberts' view, he says "there are very few examples looking back over the last 25 to 30 years where sanctions have actually succeeded".

In many ways sanctions also have a poor track record in terms of their impact upon a country's economy.

They have tended to hit home against the ordinary people - the ruled - rather than against the rulers who are often the real target for pressure.
Children perished

The experience in Iraq during the 1990s is a case in point.
A sick baby in a Baghdad hospital (File photo September 1999) There are still debates about how many died in Iraq, but children bore the brunt of the hardship

The air attacks in the US-led war to liberate Kuwait hit Iraq's infrastructure hard.

They exacerbated an already difficult situation caused by the imposition of sanctions.

Professor Joy Gordon, of the Global Justice Programme at Yale University, has just written a new study on the impact of these sanctions.

The combination of the bombing strikes and the sanctions were devastating, she says.

"Iraq had the wealth to rebuild," she says, "but the devastation of the infrastructure and then the almost total cut-off of exports and imports, meant that Iraq was - in the words of a UN envoy - reduced to a pre-industrial state and then was kept, more or less, close to that condition for over a decade after."

The debates on how many perished, especially children, continue to this day.

She argues in her book that the best estimate of excess child mortality - the number of children under five who died during the sanctions who would not have perished had pre-war and pre-sanctions conditions continued - is between 670,000 and 880,000.
'Smart' sanctions

Adam Roberts says that the figure may be significantly lower.

But there was hardship and suffering and he has no doubt about the lesson of the Iraq experience.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (l) and Robert Mugabe (c) inspect produce at a trade fair Smart sanctions are supposed to target the rulers of a country, rather than its people

"Very often it is the case that the first people to suffer from sanctions are the population generally and the powerful people - the people in the regime - can find ways of getting around sanctions," he adds.

The disproportionate damage to Iraq's civilian population encouraged policy-makers to think again about sanctions and how they are applied.

Sir Jeremy Greenstock says that the whole Iraq episode underscored the fact that economic sanctions are not a tool that works quickly.

"They take a long time. Therefore we want to try to devise an instrument that gets through to the decision-makers at a sharper pace than just the collapse of the total economy, from which too many people suffer."

Thus were born "smart" or "targeted" sanctions, aimed against the rulers rather than the ruled.

But is there enough clarity as to what these smart sanctions against Iran are really for?

Were they seeking to change the Iranian government's behaviour on the nuclear issue? Were they about isolating Iran? Or was the idea, perhaps, to change the regime in Tehran altogether?

In response Sir Jeremy Greenstock says: "Well perhaps all of those things", before going on to acknowledge that sanctions are still a blunt instrument.

"The bluntness is excused to some extent because there is no other instrument but we have to recognise that there are all sorts of unintended consequences and we have to try to mend those as we go along, if we insist upon using sanctions in the first place."

Sanctions can also have another down side.

They can provoke a defensive reaction on the part of the target country and its population.

Blitz spirit

Adam Roberts says some have called this the "Battle of Britain" effect; a reference to the days in 1940 when Britain stood alone against everything the German Luftwaffe could throw at it.

"The problem is how to prevent these sanctions from leading to very strong nationalist resentment in Iran itself. When Iran was attacked by Iraq in 1980, the international community did not come to its aid. It did not sanction the attacker, Iraq - and that's remembered in Iran."
A war time shop-front in London Attempts to wear down whole countries have failed in the past

"In the Iranian regime's official pronouncements there is a sense that only we can look after ourselves," he says.

"And in these circumstances it's a very difficult task to gauge the sanctions correctly so that they don't exacerbate the problem that they are designed to address."

All in all then, sanctions appear a problematic tool at best.

Maybe they work, to an extent, but only in concert with other measures.

Carrots may be equally as important as sticks.

It's by no means clear that smart sanctions are necessarily any smarter.

Indeed they may take even longer to work and over time they may still involve considerable damage to a country's wider economy.

Nonetheless in a limited diplomatic armoury, between words and warfare, there may indeed be little else.
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China-Iran: Old ties, modern dependency

By Chris Hogg BBC News, Shanghai

Captain Abdolaziz Moarref spreads a blueprint over the desk in front of him, and shows me his company's design for a heavy-duty tug boat.

Behind him, in his Shanghai office, are the flags of China and Iran.

For four years he has been working hard to build up his business.

The captain - he prefers to be known by the title that dates back to his sea-faring days - helps clients to build ships here in China.

He works for firms in Africa, the Middle East, and his home country, Iran.

But in the last few weeks, part of his business has dried up.

At around the same time that the United Nations agreed new sanctions against Iran to try to pressure it to abandon its nuclear programme, he says Chinese banks stopped accepting letters of credit from Iran.

He blames the UN Security Council.


"Because of these sanctions now, this year I have stopped my business. I cannot export anything to Iran," he says.
Expo oil pavilion The Expo oil pavilion shows exhibits on the importance of oil to China

"We cannot buy even normal goods, necessary things for our people".

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Shanghai last month, a few days after the UN decision to tighten the sanctions.

There was chaos.

He was mobbed by reporters and supporters as he toured the Iranian pavilion at the World Expo.

But none of China's senior leaders came to meet him.

Captain Moarref complains that "politics is now getting in the way of economics".

He believes Iran has every right to pursue a nuclear programme, but he is unhappy that the issue appears to be harming his business.


It is a concern recognised by academics like Professor Zhu Weilie, a Middle East expert from Shanghai International Studies University.

He points out that Chinese merchants have traded with their Persian counterparts for centuries along the silk routes.

"There has never been a problem between these two peoples," he says.

He believes his country's ties with Iran are being tested by the nuclear crisis, but he insists they will not be broken.

The professor believes China will do what it can to try to bring the Iranians back "into the international system".
Professor Zhu Weilie Professor Zhu says China wants Iran back in the "international system"

"We are not hugging them close like a friend," he says, "but we are friendly."

At Shanghai's World Expo, in the pavilion built by state-owned oil companies, it soon becomes clear why China feels it is important to maintain those ties.

The huge building - one of the most popular on the site - is filled with exhibits designed to remind Chinese people why oil is so important.

A 3D film at the pavilion shows what would happen if the oil ran out.

No plastic, no paint, no clothes even - producing shrieks of horror from the audience.
Thirst for oil

Searching for stable and long-term sources of oil has long been a priority for the Chinese government, and Iran is one of the most important sources it has.

Tehran supplies about 14% of the crude oil Beijing needs.

So, should the international community decide to tighten the sanctions even further and cut that supply, China would suffer.

So too would the rest of the world though, says oil analyst Qiu Xiaofeng.

"If Iran was stopped from producing oil, the rest of the world would struggle to make up the capacity, so the oil price would go up," he says.

"That would be bad for everyone. Not just for China, an oil importer, but for the US and others - anyone importing oil".

The problem for China is that even if it keeps the oil flowing from Iran at current levels, its thirst for energy keeps increasing.

By the middle of this decade, more than half of China's population will live in cities.

That will create huge additional needs for power, and make the sources of the energy China imports - countries like Iran - more and more important if China's growth and development is to continue.
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Iran nuclear plant start date set

Russia says it will undertake a key step next week towards starting up a reactor at Iran's first nuclear power station.

Russia's state atomic corporation, which is building the plant, said engineers will begin loading the Bushehr reactor with fuel.

However, it could be six months before the reactor is fully operational.

Russia has been helping build the plant since the mid-1990s, amid tensions over Iran's nuclear programme.

Jon Leyne BBC News, Cairo

The Iranian government will probably be as much relieved as delighted to hear that the process of commissioning the Bushehr nuclear reactor will finally begin on 21 August.

The troubled project has taken 35 years, the victim of Iran's complicated relationship with the rest of the world.

Even now, the recent cooling of ties between Iran and Russia, which is building and operating the reactor, must have led to some last-minute doubts.

Because Russia is both supplying the fuel and taking away the waste, it makes it unlikely that Iran can use the reactor to make fissile material for a nuclear weapon. Hence its exemption from UN sanctions.

That has not prevented it being subject to apparently endless delays, with many Iranians sceptical about Moscow's commitment to the project.

Iranians will continue to have their doubts until the reactor starts producing electricity in substantial amounts, and that could still be many months away.

"The fuel will be charged in the reactor on 21 August. From this moment, Bushehr will be considered a nuclear installation," spokesman Sergei Novikov said.

Iranians will remain sceptical until they see the Bushehr plant finally working and generating electricity, 35 years after the project was started under the Shah, says the BBC's Jon Leyne in Cairo.

Many in Iran believe that the endless delays in the civilian project were designed either to extract more money from them, or as a result of Western pressure.

If and when the plant finally starts operating, it will be a moment of national pride, and an event Iran will no doubt celebrate as showing it can overcome international pressure and isolation, our correspondent says.

Russia will run the plant, supply the fuel and take away the fuel waste.

For that reason, nuclear experts say there is little immediate danger of the reactor being used to build nuclear weapons.

Russia is a leading arms and technology supplier to Iran, though relations have cooled in recent months as Moscow has backed tougher UN sanctions aimed at pressuring Iran to abandon its uranium enrichment programme.

Moscow's co-operation with the sanctions is seen as key to their effectiveness.
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Fri Aug 13, 2010 7:06 pm
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Iran hails Bushehr reactor 'nuclear victory over West'
By Jon Leyne BBC News, Cairo

Even before the official launch of the Bushehr nuclear reactor, Iranian officials have been lauding it as a victory for the Islamic republic against its enemies.

Senior MP Gholamreza Khalami said that the "arrogant powers" attempt to disrupt the project had failed.

Another MP described the opening of the plant as "a great victory for the Islamic Republic of Iran".

The hard-line Javan newspaper declared on Tuesday that the Russian decision to commission the plant "proves the victory of Iran's decisive demands against international pressure".

Amidst the defiance, you also sense relief that the first full-scale reactor in the Middle East is finally about to become operational.

Opening ceremony

In a ceremony on Saturday, officials from Iran and Russia, which has been building the reactor, will declare it operational.

* Construction began 1974 with German assistance
* Work abandoned during 1979 Iranian revolution
* Project revived in 1995 with Russian backing
* Delays while UN finalised resolutions on uranium enrichment
* First canisters of uranium delivered 2007
* Two pressurised water reactors on site

It could be at least a month before it begins to generate electricity.

This weekend simply marks the moment when nuclear fuel will be brought inside the building, and the process begins of loading it into the reactor.

Nevertheless, this is the moment when Bushehr officially becomes a working nuclear reactor. It has taken a mere 35 years for the plant to be built.

When it was started in 1975, the Shah was still firmly in power; The Americans were keen for him to adopt nuclear technology; The German company Siemens sensed a promising business opportunity.

That all fell victim to politics, after the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
Repeated delays

The Russian company AtomStroyExport took over the contract and resumed the work in 1995.

But the project continued to be repeatedly delayed.

Many Iranians feared it was what the Russians euphemistically call a "Dolgostroi" - a building project in which money is paid, and work continues, but no end is ever in sight.
A journalist on a tour of the Bushehr power plant (file photo) As the plant was being built Iran openly questioned Russia's good faith

Iranian officials openly expressed doubts about Russia's good faith.

They believed Moscow was succumbing to Western pressure to hold back on the project. Or perhaps, more prosaically, that the Russians were simply milking them for cash.

Now, despite a deterioration in Iranian-Russian relations, those suspicions can apparently be put to rest.

According to a White House official quoted in the Wall Street Journal, the latest development is the result of a deal between Washington in Moscow.

Washington agreed to lift its opposition to completing Bushehr, in return for Russia voting for the latest round of UN sanctions.

Certainly there has been a change of tune from Western officials recently.

Previously they had hinted that delay on the Bushehr project was one of the costs Iran was paying for lack of co-operation over its nuclear programme.

Now, Western officials are instead stressing that they have no objection to the demonstrably peaceful aspects of Iran's nuclear programme, such as Bushehr, only to other aspects of the programme which might have a military component.


Russia's involvement in the Bushehr project has been critical in allowing it to escape the net of international sanctions.
Iranian Vice President Gholamreza Aghazadeh, centre left, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization and Russian Atomic Agency Chief Sergei Kiriyenko, centre right Nuclear proliferation is unlikely as long as the Russians are involved

Not just is Russia building and operating the plant, it is also supplying the nuclear fuel and most importantly taking away the nuclear waste.

The main proliferation danger from reactors of this type is when countries extract the plutonium from the waste.

Russia's participation makes this unlikely, at least in the foreseeable future.

And Iran is not believed to possess a reprocessing plant that could extract plutonium, though experts say that one may be under development at a facility in Arak.

So most experts believe that in the near future, Bushehr does not present any immediate proliferation risk.

But others fear there is a possibility that some of the nuclear fuel could be diverted away from peaceful purposes, and eventually Iran could take over the plant from the Russians and begin reprocessing the waste.

Nevertheless for the moment the prospect of a military strike to prevent the nuclear plant becoming operational seems both unlikely and, according to the view of most Western experts, unnecessary.

After nuclear fuel is moved into the plant this weekend, such a strike would have the added danger of spreading nuclear material over a wide area.

The biggest international concern continues to centre on the Natanz centrifuge plant, which is being used to enrich uranium, a process with both peaceful and potentially military uses.
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Fri Aug 20, 2010 5:37 pm
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Iran suspends officers over Kahrizak jail deaths

Iran has suspended three judicial officers over their alleged role in the killing of anti-government protesters in prison last year, reports say.

The move clears the way for the trio, who were not named, to face trial.

It comes two months after a military court sentenced two prison officials to death in connection with the killings.

At least three protesters died after a series of beatings in Kahrizak jail, where they were held for taking part in last year's election protests.

The protesters have been named as Amir Javadifar, Mohsen Ruholamini and Mohammed Kamrani.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered the closure of Kahrizak jail in July, following widespread outrage in Iran over reports of abuse.

More than 150 demonstrators were arrested and taken to Kahrizak detention centre, south of Tehran, in the aftermath of street protests against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election in June 2009. Opposition supporters claimed the vote was rigged.

The opposition says more than 80 protesters were killed in the crackdown. The government has confirmed about 30 deaths.

Iran has also hanged two activists it said were guilty of "war against God", a charge levelled at those who protested against the disputed election of Mr Ahmadinejad.
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Death penalty for Iran jail abuse

An Iranian military court has sentenced two men to death in connection with the killings of three anti-government protesters, the state news agency said.

Prosecutors said the three died after a series of beatings in Iran's Kahrizak jail, where they were held for taking part in last year's election protests.

Nine other officials were sentenced to jail and lashes over the deaths, Irna said quoting a court statement.

Kahrizak jail was shut in July over concerns about the abuse of inmates.

The officials charged in the Kahrizak case - whose names have not been released - were among 12 people facing prosecution over the inmates' deaths.

The pair were found guilty of "inflicting intentional abuse leading to the murder" of the three protesters, Irna quoted the court statement as saying.

They have 20 days to appeal against the rulings.

One person has been acquitted due to lack of evidence, Irna said.
Mass arrests

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election in the June 2009 poll triggered mass protests by opposition supporters, who claimed the vote was rigged.

More than 150 demonstrators were taken to Kahrizak detention centre, south of Tehran, in the aftermath of the street protests.

The three who died while in custody have been named as Amir Javadifar, Mohsen Ruholamini and Mohammed Kamrani.

Officials had initially said Mr Ruholamini and Mr Kamrani died of meningitis, but the coroner ruled that the cause of death was a series of beatings.

Iran has jailed several opposition figures and hundreds of protesters over their roles in poll-election unrest.

It has also hanged two activists it said were guilty of "war against god", a charge levelled at those who protested against the disputed election of Mr Ahmadinejad.
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Wed Aug 25, 2010 5:55 pm
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